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The 6 Best Physical Sunscreens

Broadly speaking, any kind of sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all. Dig a tiny bit deeper, and you’ll find that sunscreens are divided into two categories: Chemical and physical. This choice, like many others, is a personal one — but for today's purposes, we're going to be talking about physical (or mineral) sunscreens. The best physical sunscreens will have an SPF of at least 30 and offer broad-spectrum sun protection, which means they'll protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Aside from that, the best physical sunscreen for you will be the one that you actually end up wearing (every day, of course) — so go with the sunscreen that sounds the most appealing in terms of formula/consistency/et cetera.

But before you get to shopping, some background on how physical sunscreens work. Rather than employing chemicals that absorb UV rays, physical sunscreens are formulated with zinc oxide, titanium oxide, or a combination of the two. I recently spoke to dermatologist Dr. Orit Markowitz about mineral sunscreens (another name for physical sunscreens), and she explained that zinc and titanium oxide “act as microscopic mirrors” that sit on the skin’s surface to “reflect harmful UV rays before they can penetrate your skin.”

In addition to providing broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection in a really cool way, zinc in particular comes with its own list of anti-inflammatory benefits — hence why you’ll find it in some acne treatments — so sunscreens containing this mineral can actually benefit people who experience breakouts or irritation.

If you've decided to get physical, scroll on to shop six of the best mineral sunscreens you can get on Amazon.

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1. The Best Moisturizing Sunscreen

A potential drawback of physical sunscreens is that they “don’t always have the smoothest application,” according to Dr. Markowitz, so they can feel overly thick and clumpy. Not so with this sunscreen from PCA Skin, which is formulated specifically for use on dry skin. Jojoba esters, glycerin, and sodium hyaluronate impart hydration and moisture while caffeine helps ward off free radical damage. Note that this isn’t a purely mineral sunscreen — in addition to 5.4% zinc oxide, the formula contains the chemical blockers octisalate and octocrylene, which help improve blendability (and, crucially, provide even more sun protection).

2. The Best Mattifying Sunscreen

This TIZO 2 mineral sunscreen works overtime as a mattifying face primer, thanks to dimethicones that create a velvety, grippable canvas for your base makeup to glide over (or to make your bare complexion look a little smoother). Dimethicones also help absorb excess oil on the surface of your skin and keep unwanted shine at bay for hours. A purely physical sunscreen, this contains 8.3% titanium dioxide and 3.8% zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum sun protection without clogging your pores. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, so this a great choice for hot, sweaty days spent at the beach or pool.

3. The Best Premium Sunscreen

11% zinc oxide in this ISDIN sunscreen provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection, but the formula also contains a unique ingredient that actively reverses existing sun damage: Plankton-derived photolyase enzymes, which are clinically proven to repair DNA that’s been damaged by UV light. In this sunscreen, antioxidants help break up excess pigmentation caused by sun exposure, too. Reviewers say the consistency is truly light and fluid, and it doesn’t leave a chalky film in its wake — precious rarities for a mineral sunscreen.

4. The Best Drugstore Sunscreen

Physical sunscreens aren't the sole domain of luxury brands, as this Neutrogena sunscreen deftly proves. With over 1,000 positive reviews on Amazon, this is actually one of the most popular mineral sunscreens you can get your hands on, in addition to being one of the most reasonably priced. In here, an impressive 21.6% zinc oxide content keeps skin calm, cool, and protected, and once it’s on, it stays on. On the downside, all that zinc can leave a noticeable white cast on darker skin tones, and blending it out can be a little tough. Try mixing it with your foundation or tinted moisturizer to color correct, or with your regular moisturizer for a more comfortable feel.

5. The Best Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin

Another budget-friendly choice, this Aveeno sunscreen is especially ideal for sensitive or already irritated skin, as all Aveeno products are. The zinc-only formula is infused with soothing oat kernel flour and feverfew extract, which can help reduce redness and inflammation. (Don’t forget that zinc is a calming ingredient, too.) And it’s free of some common irritants that people with sensitive skin would do well to avoid, like parabens, fragrances, and phthalates. This one also gets mixed reviews on the blendability front, so you may want to thin it out with a lightweight moisturizer or face oil.

6. The Best Sunscreen Spray

Mineral-only sunscreen sprays are notoriously tough to track down on Amazon, but this All Good Sport Mineral Sunscreen is among the most highly rated. The mister makes for easier application all over your body, though the formula is spiked with tons of antioxidant-rich plant extracts (many of which are organic) that are gentle enough for your face, too — think calming aloe, calendula, and camellia extracts, plus nourishing sunflower and buriti fruit oils. Be sure to apply and reapply liberally if you’ll be in direct sunlight for several hours, since some reviewers say the sun protection isn’t quite as hearty as what you'd get from this spray's chemical counterparts.

Expert:

Dr. Orit Markowitz, a board-certified dermatologist and Director of Pigmented Lesions and Skin Cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital.